Greatest Sports Team of All Time

The Boston Red Sox celebrate after defeating the New York Yankees 10-3 in game 7 of the ALCS Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2004 in New York. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

In the wake of the Major League Baseball’s virtual home opener and recently where I saw game 4 of the 2004 ALCS I got to thinking about the greatest teams ever in all of sports, college or pro.  This is a hard one to pin down.  As you may or may not know, sports are in my DNA and I’ve been watching it since I was a child (circa 1972-ish).  It is mostly Major League Baseball (MLB), Football (National Football League: NFL, CFB: College Football) and the National Hockey League (NHL).  My love for sports knows no bounds and during this pandemic of 2020, we are absent of sports.  This got me to thinking which team is the greatest team of all time.  There are so many to choose from.  Disclaimer: If you are expecting a ton of stats and a stat nerd post, this isn’t your type of column.

Full disclosure, I don’t know much about women’s college basketball or futbol (soccer) so they do not make the cut.  I’ll leave that to those experts.  However, the rest I do know about including men’s basketball on the college level.  So here we go!  Eat your heart out ESPN for a clickbait list story!

As I was googling all of this, these are the teams that came up for me.  The only bias and yes there’s bias on my part, comes in the form of the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team and the Boston Red Sox.  I love both of those teams dearly.

NFLCFBMLBNBANHLCBB
1985 Chicago Bears1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers1998 New York Yankees1986 Boston Celtics1987-1988 Edmonton Oilers1976 Indiana Hoosiers
1989 San Francisco 49ers 1927 New York Yankees1979-1980 Los Angeles Lakers  
1972 Miami Dolphins 2004 Boston Red Sox1995-1996 Chicago Bulls  

It is a great list but let’s go sport by sport.

MLB

Major League Baseball is near and dear to my heart.  I researched a lot of lists on the internet for this story to see what teams were listed as the greatest of all time. I’ve been following MLB since I was a kid, circa 1972. My first in-person game was in 1968.

1927 New York Yankees – Murderers Row

To start with, the 1927 New York Yankees come to mind.  That team was loaded with 4 HOF players in Ruth, Gehrig, Earl Combs, Waite Hoyt, Tony Lazzeri, and Herb Pencock.  They won the World Series and won 110 games that year.

1998 New York Yankees

The 1998 New York Yankees are fresh in my mind as it was the wild-card era.  It took 3 rounds of baseball to crown the World Series champion.  In 1927 you clinched the American League or National League Pennant; you were in the World Series.  It is how the NY Yankees have a lot of World Series rings.  There was never any regular season interleague play that plagues MLB right now.  Teams were not familiar with each other then and had to go 7 games (9 in earlier years).  This is why I love this 1998 team.  It won 114 games that year, went 11-2 in the postseason.  To win in modern baseball they had to do those 3 series.  I love that team and I’m a Red Sox fan.  On most lists it was number 2 or 3 on the list of greatest MLB teams of all-time.

1984 Detroit Tigers – World Champions

The 1984 Detroit Tigers is another team high on my list.  I remember vividly how well they started out that year.  They won a ridiculous amount of games in April and May, but kept the pedal to the metal and won it all.  They had Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammel, Kirk Gibson (more famous for his Dodger home run than being on this team), Chet Lemon, Jack Morris, and led by the incomparable Sparky Anderson (who also managed the Big Red Machine).

Sports Illustrated Commemorative Issue in 2004

I am biased, but none of the lists include the 2004 Boston Red Sox.  If you were not aware, the Red Sox have been to the World Series many times.  In 1975 they lost to the Big Red Machine in the Cincinnati Reds (littered with HOF players) and one of the greatest teams of all-time.  They lost to the New York Mets in 1986.  I will never forget that feeling at all.  So, leading into the 2004 post-season, they had not won in 86 years.  That was always hanging over the Red Sox franchise.  The curse of the Bambino (named for Babe Ruth).  In case you didn’t know, the owner of the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920 for $125,000.  The owner wanted the money to produce theatrical productions.  Harry Herbert Frazee was the notorious owner who did this.  So, you had 86 years hanging on this Red Sox team led by David Ortiz.  They went into the ALCS and promptly lost 3 in a row.  No team had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in MLB history.  They won game 4 led by Dave Roberts stealing 2nd base as a pinch runner.  It took 12 innings in Fenway, but they won 1 game and proceeded to win the next 3 with the bloody sock of Curt Schilling being a centerpiece of that series.  They crushed the Yankees in game 7 led by Johnny Damon’s grand slam in the bottom of the 1st.  In the World Series they crushed the St. Louis Cardinals 4-0 to win their 1st World Series in 8 years.  I would argue that this is one of the greatest teams of all time in MLB.  The roster is not littered with HOF players, but they had the best manager in Tito (Terry Francona) who will be in the HOF.  Papi will be in the HOF.  Manny Ramirez should be, and Schilling will be soon enough.  But it was a team effort that got it done and that is why I consider it amongst the best because it was a team that eliminated the curse of the Bambino.

MLB Greatest Team of All-Time

1998 New York Yankees

NBA

Showtime Lakers of 1980

For me, in the NBA, that 1980 team of the Lakers is one of the greatest teams of all time.  You have a rookie in Ervin “Magic” Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at center, James Worthy, and so many more.  Nobody stood a chance with Magic in there and they were as dominate as they could be.  Trust me, I hated that as a #CELTICS fan for sure, but history is kind.  A truly remarkable team and that franchise owned the 80s with 5 championships (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988).  What a remarkable run.  And Magic called Kobe the greatest Laker ever!

1986 NBA Finals

The 1985-1986 Celtics team is one I always remember.  They were a joy to watch.  Bill Walton was there, McHale, Parrish, Bird, Danny Ainge, it was an amazing team.  I loved that team so much and truly they are one of the great teams of all time.  They had fun and went on to win it all over Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets.

1995-1996 Chicago Bulls

But to discuss the greatest NBA team of all time you have to include the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls team.  They went 72-10; only 10 losses. Dear lord they were good.  Dennis Rodman was acquired and somehow meshed with that team.  I still don’t understand that.  I personally think that was the greatest NBA team ever.  MJ is the greatest player in NBA history not just because of talent, but because of his will to win and put people on his back to do so.  That’s a whole separate blog.

NBA Greatest Team:

The 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls.

NFL

Turning to the NFL, if you don’t mention that 1972 Miami Dolphins team that ran the table as one of the greatest, you are not very smart.  Yeah, I wrote it.  Every year when a NFL teams falls from the ranks of the unbeaten and their record is untarnished, they celebrate, the remaining team members of that 1972 team, that is.  I too would celebrate it.  Don Shula coached a team to a Super Bowl win in an era where QBs were not protected, defenses could get away with more and more stuff, and it wasn’t a passing league then.  That Dolphins team has 8 members in the NFL Hall of Fame.  Ridiculous!

1985 Chicago Bears

Continuing on, that 1985 Bears team was dominant!  They didn’t have the world’s greatest offense, but every great defense since then is compared to them.  They went on to win the Super Bowl and wax the New England Patriots.  For some reason, I know where I was when I watched that game.  Steve Grogan, the Patriot QB, didn’t stand a chance.  Vince McMahon mocked Pete Rozelle that year and Mike Ditka got William “The Refrigerator” Perry a Super Bowl TD, but not the great Walter Payton.  I’ll always remember that.

I need more research on the greatest NFL team of all time.  The 1962 Packers are considered one of the all-time greats.  Add to that the 1989 49ers boasted 2 HOF QBs on their roster in starter, Joe Montana and backup Steve Young.  Add to that the greatest WR of all time Jerry Rice.

1989 San Francisco 49ers

It is hard for me not to name the 1972 Dolphins running the table as the best team ever.  Most sites I read, had them at 2 or 3, not 1.  But in team sport, to run the table, to not lose is very hard.  Ask the 2007 Patriots.  They ran the table but ultimately lost in the Super Bowl to Eli Manning and the New York Giants.  The Dolphins ran the table in an era where hard hitting defenses were the norm and quarterbacks weren’t protected like they are now.

Best NFL Team: 1972 Miami Dolphins.

NHL

CANADA – MAY 26: Hockey: Stanley Cup finals, (L-R) Edmonton Oilers Bill Ranford, Esa Tikkanen, Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, and Kevin Lowe victorious with trophy after winning game vs Boston Bruins, Edmonton, CAN 5/26/1988 (Photo by David E. Klutho/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images) (SetNumber: X36585 TK5 R16 F8)

As for the puck, this is such a beautiful sport.  Most cannot even ice skate yet these men skate forwards and backwards while other men are tugging at their sweaters to take them down or to slow them down.  A subtle wrist shot to the top of the net is one of the most beautiful plays in sport.  As for the teams themselves, to not include any of those Edmonton teams in this list is just ridiculous.  The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, lit the lamp a lot that in 1987-1988 when they won the cup and had 109 assists.  Glen Sather, HOF coach, led this team on a run that rivaled that of another team I’ll mention in a minute.  With Grant Fuhr in goal, they were unstoppable.  They didn’t win their division but ultimately took home the cup!

But I would be remiss not to mention any of the Montreal Canadiens teams with Maurice “The Rocket” Richard (pronounced Ree-chard).  He, Gretzky, Howe, Lemieux, were the all-time greats of the sport.  All had great hands, could skate around anyone and saw the ice so differently than the others.  The Canadiens are the NY Yankees of the NHL with 24 Stanley Cups.  Truly a legendary franchise that is my Boston Bruins rival.  That Patrick Roy led team that won the cup is one of the all-time greats to me.  I hated it but wow they were good.

Another dynasty in the NHL was that run by the New York Islanders starting in 1980.  Have mercy, 4 straight cups is unheard of and in an era where the rules were more slack than they are today.  Bryan Trottier was in a league of his own those years.

NHL Greatest Team Ever:

1987-1988 Edmonton Oilers

College Football

There have been many “game of the century” lists but no real greatest teams of all time.  And there have been some great teams.  I’ve read some of the lists and agree with most of them.

47 Game Winning Streak for OU

Any person not mentioning any of those great 1950’s Oklahoma teams is not smart.  Bud Wilkinson I believe won 47 straight games as their coach.   Add to that, the 2001 Miami Hurricanes team that won it all was littered with NFL players and some that are in the HOF right now.  That team was amazing to watch and obliterated my Huskers in the National Championship.  (My Huskers didn’t deserve to be there and there were better teams out there, but that is how the ball bounces.)

Tommy Frazier breaking numerous tackles in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl

Almost every list I read mentions the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers as the greatest CFB team of all time.  Their defense dominated and the offense obliterated the opposition on their way to winning it all in the Fiesta Bowl against Florida.  Most didn’t give them a chance against Florida’s high-powered offense, but that game was not even close.  I will never forget that feeling and where I was when it happened.  I believe I still have the Omaha World Herald prints from that championship.  I still remember that Touchdown Tommy Frazier run, whew!

Greatest CFB Team of All-Time

1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers

Men’s College Basketball

John Wooden is widely regarded as the greatest CBB greatest coach of all time.  10 National Championships got stars like Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton to play in a team game.  But to me one of the greatest CBB teams of all time is that 1976 Indiana team coached by Bobby Knight that ran the table, went to the tournament.  Granted it was only 32 teams (half of what is today), but they went undefeated and won it all.  To be fair, UCLA did this 4 times (1964, 1967, 1972, 1973).  1971, 1972 and into 1973 they didn’t lose.

There are those Duke teams and those North Carolina teams (yes the one with Jordan as a freshman, winning it all in the Astrodome).  I struggle with this as UCLA went on a 90-1 run which has never been matched since.

1955 NCAA Champs

Furthermore, I found some lists that mention that great run by the San Francisco Dons (led by KC Jones – later a Celtic) and the greatest center of all-time Bill Russell.  They could not be stopped and were led by 3 African Americans in an era where segregation was still rampant.  KC would be in the HOF as a player and then coach the Celtics to a championship in the 1980s.  Bill was a player/coach when Red Auerbach retired and coached them to 2 championships.

Best Men’s CBB Team of All Time:

1972-1973 UCLA Bruins

Now here were have the list from above:

1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers

1976 Indiana Hoosiers

1986 Boston Celtics

1998 New York Yankees

1927 New York Yankees

2004 Boston Red Sox

1980 Los Angeles Lakers

1988 Edmonton Oilers

1985 Chicago Bears

1989 San Francisco 49ers

1972 Miami Dolphins

1995 Chicago Bulls

And from each respective sport:

Best Men’s CBB Team of All Time:

1972 UCLA Bruins

NHL Greatest Team Ever:

1987-1988 Edmonton Oilers

Best NFL Team: 1972 Miami Dolphins.

NBA Greatest Team:

The 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls.

MLB Greatest Team of All-Time

1998 New York Yankees

Greatest CFB Team of All-Time

1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers

The Greatest Sports Team of All-Time:

1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers

Which of these is the greatest team ever?  UCLA ran the table easily.  Nebraska ran the table.  For the NHL and NBA and NFL you had superior talent and a grueling schedule.  And MLB, 162 games does separate the men from the boys.  So which of these is the best of all time as a team?

To me, the 1995 Nebraska team was the best ever.  It had a dominating offense and defense.  Most in college football think of teams in terms of NFL talent on the roster.  I do not.  Most on that 1995 team didn’t do anything in the NFL.  That is not what makes a team.  What makes a team is a cohesive unit together for the duration of a season.  Add to that, they had just won the national championship the year before.  Moreover, Nebraska football is in a small state where everything hinges upon their success.  It is its own economy and every move made by those athletes is scrutinized.  Some athletes recruited aren’t ready for that type of scrutiny but this team held together somehow and dominated everyone in their way including a very good Florida Gators team in the Fiesta Bowl.  I place more value on team than stars, thus this is my selection for the greatest sports team ever!

Author

kellyr.actor@gmail.com

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